Lord Kitchener’s farcical journey to Gallipoli continues. Admiral Keyes has failed to make it to Marseilles in time to take ship with him. It will later emerge that the Admiralty never bothered to pass on Kitchener’s invitation, and in any case it’s unlikely that Keyes would have been able to get there. Kitchener will later tell him “When you didn’t turn up at Marseilles, I made up my mind that the naval plan was dead.” Ye gods.
The landships project may well be going full speed ahead, but they’re far from the only people conducting ridiculous experiments to develop new weapons of war. The Trench Warfare Department at David Lloyd-George’s Ministry of Munitions has just invented and trialled a hilarious device that rejoices in the name of “Lemon’s Wheel and Rotating Machine”. The device is in two parts. There’s a large wooden wheel, covered in blades and spikes and other such cutting implements. It also has an unhealthy quantity of explosive attached to it. The second part, the “Rotating Machine”, is a large engine-driven contraption that will spin the wheel up to 100mph, and then let it go. (If you’re familiar with the weird weapons of the Second World War, you’re thinking of something not entirely unlike the Great Panjandrum.)
At this point, I invite everyone to just pause for a moment, and imagine the first day on the Somme being led off by a thousand of Lemon’s Wheels zooming merrily across No Man’s Land. Isn’t that a thought worth having?
Anyway, the idea is that the wheel will cross No Man’s Land, carve lanes in the barbed wire for the infantry, and then explode violently over the enemy trench, showering them with shrapnel. It’s a lovely idea, but sadly the tests are not favourable. The wheel did manage to cross a section of rough ground and rumble through a barbed-wire entanglement as though the wire wasn’t there. Apparently it then hit the parapet of the test trench and soared 50 yards through the air to land in a support trench. Sounds great, but soon after it landed the barbed wire proved to have been not cut but temporarily flattened, and it quickly recovered its shape. With little hope of controlling when the explosives might actually detonate, the project was quietly shelved.
Meanwhile, the War Office is today in Scotland trialling an enormous water cannon. It’s a wonderful idea, aimed at being able to launch water across No Man’s Land with sufficient force to entirely destroy the enemy trenches, wash away their barbed wire, and incapacitate the defenders and their weapons. And the trial is, on the face of it, a success. Firing 150 yards at a test trench, the destruction is absolutely comical. Parapet sandbags are lifted into the air and thrown yards away from the trench. The walls of the trench quickly begin to collapse under the weight of water, with mud and stones rocketing around to cause death or injury and disable the defenders’ weapons. Sounds great, right?
Unfortunately, it needs a shitload of highly-pressurised water. The pumps are exceptionally heavy and would have needed to take in water through long, vulnerable pipes. Getting sufficient electricity to them requires enormous generating capacity. A full report is on its way to the Prime Minister; responsibility for assessing it will fall primarily with Colonel Swinton.
Let’s bring in now another correspondent. Captain Robert Palmer is serving in Mesopotamia, after an extended period in India; he’s at present doing garrison duty in Amara while the main force goes up for the Battle of Ctesiphon. He’s provided us with a quick sketch of his ordinary days.
6.30 a.m. Am called and drink 1 cup cocoa and eat 4 biscuits.
7.15 a.m. Get up.
7.45 a.m. Finished toilet and read Times till breakfast.
8.0 Breakfast. Porridge, scrambled eggs, bread and jam, tea.
8.30-9.15. Read Times.
9.15-10.15. Parade (or more often not, about twice a week 1 parade).
10.15-1.0 Read and write, unless interrupted by duties.
1.0 Lunch. Cold meat, pudding, cheese and bread, lemonade.
1.30-4.0. Read and write.
4.0. Tea, bread and jam.
4.30. Censor Civil Telegrams.
4.45-6.15. Take exercise, e.g., walk, ride, fish, shoot, or play football.
6.15. Have a bath.
6.30-7.30. Play skat, or talk on verandah.
7.30. Mess. Soup, fish, meat, veg., pudding, savoury, beer or whisky.
10.15. Go to bed.
It’s a quiet existence, and at long as the Battle of Ctesiphon goes well, there’s every chance that it will continue for some time. Skat, by the way, is a trick-taking card game.
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(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)